COLUMBIA, S.C. — Proof that the spike in COVID-19 cases in South Carolina has ended can now be found in the sewage in one city, officials said.
Clemson has been measuring the level of virus in the city's wastewater weekly since late May. There was a spike in mid-June to coincided with a rapid increase in cases. The amount of coronavirus started leveling off in late July, the city said in a report.
"This is the order of magnitude change that we have been hoping to see, presumably a consequence of the mask ordinance. Of course, it is only one data point. We need to see a trend," city officials wrote in their report this week.
But there were some concerning results. The wastewater station that serves Clemson University has seen a jump in virus levels as emloyees return to campus after weeks of detecting no virus in its sewage. The school has delayed in-person classes and students returning to dorms until mid-September.
While the increase in new COVID-19 cases in South Carolina and a lagging spike in deaths from the virus have leveled off, they are still high above the rates as the summer started.
The state is averaging five times as many cases and deaths now as June 1. South Carolina currently is seeing 1,512 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases averaged out over the past seven days. The seven-day average for deaths is 41.
The state hasn't reported fewer than 10 COVID-19 deaths in a day since June 23. Only one day since then has seen less than 1,000 new cases reported, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The next several weeks will see new challenges to whether South Carolina can continue to see that slow decline in cases.
On Monday, a new order from Gov. Henry McMaster allowed concerts, sporting events, festivals and other gatherings of up to 250 people as long as everyone wears masks. Organizers who want a bigger crowd can ask the state for an exception.
But the order also requires masks to be worn at all times by workers and customers when they aren't eating in restaurants and bars and limits those businesses to 50% of their maximum capacity. Restaurants can lose food permits and bars can lose alcohol licenses if they don't follow the rules, McMaster said.
Then, on Aug, 17 the first school districts return to classes. At least 17 districts of South Carolina's 80-plus districts have been given permission by the state Education Department to begin the school year that week and Abbeville County schools and Clarendon District 1 plan to give students the option of attending in person five days a week.
A number of districts are waiting until Sept. 8 — the day after Labor Day is the latest school can start under state law.
Almost all districts are offering online only classes as well, but with more structure and requirements than the virtual classes quickly organized by necessity as the pandemic started.
“The students have to be online, engaged in order to be counted as attending that day They have to turn in a certain amount of work,” state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said at a House committee meeting Tuesday.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.